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Georgian Officials Receive International Rebuke over Criticizing Ombudsman

By Vladimer Napetvaride
Tuesday, November 28
The confrontation between the Public Defender and high ranking officials has become one of the most discussed political topics in recent weeks in Georgia.

The dispute has heated up over a so-called “cyanide case.” In early February, the Georgian law-enforcers detained priest Giorgi Mamaladze, accusing him of an attempt of murder of Patriarch’s female secretary.

The Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani criticized the Ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili calling him “unfair.”

“It is hard to comment as it is last days of Nanuashvili’s activities at the Public Defender’s Office,” stated Minister Tsulukiani adding “he is the first unfair ombudsman in the history of Georgia.”

Another representative of the Georgian Government, Minister of Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia David Sergeenko agreed with Tsulukiani.

“Nobody, including the Public Defender has a right to doubt and criticize the decision of Court. This is unacceptable and I join my colleague," Sergeenko announced.

However, the criticism of Georgian officials against the ombudsman was defined as an attack against the Institute of Public Defender. In a joint letter, eleven non-governmental organizations proclaimed the government to stop criticizing Nanuashvili for his report about a so called "cyanide case," since it would damage the country’s international image.

"We call upon the high ranking government officials to abstain from such statements, contributing to disgrace and degrade the institution of Public Defender, especially on an international arena," a joint letter signed by 11 NGOs reads.

The letter was signed by Transparency International Georgia, Media Development Foundation, Center for Human Rights Teaching and Monitoring, Civil Development Agency (CIDA), Human Rights Center, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA),Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSI), International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Union Safari, Civil Movement “Multinational Georgia,” and Multi-ethnic Resource Center for Civic Education Development.

Later, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, also urged the Georgian authorities to refrain from criticizing the Public Defender.

“I understand that a series of negative statements have been made by certain high-ranking officials in Georgia against the Public Defender. I am very concerned about the harm that such sustained verbal attacks can cause to the standing and effectiveness of this important institution. Like all Ombudsmen, the role of the Public Defender is to act in defense of human rights, be a check on the power of governments and to help improve the quality of governance. As such, his very role is to identify possible shortcomings in law and practice in his reports and interventions,” said Muižnieks in an exclusive interview with FrontNews International.

The Public Defender of Georgia is a constitutional institution, which supervises the protection of human rights and freedom within its jurisdiction on the territory of Georgia. It identifies the human rights’ violations and contributes to restoration of violated rights and freedom. According to the Georgian legislation, the ombudsman of Georgia studies cases related to:
• Decisions of public institutions;
• Violations of human rights and freedom during the review of cases in courts;
• Violations of the rights of detainees, prisoners or individuals whose liberty have been otherwise restricted;
• Compliance of normative acts with the second chapter of the Constitution of Georgia;
• Constitutionality of the norms regulating referendums and elections.

A 16-page Ombudsman’s report on the “cyanide case” is comprised of four parts:
• Process of interrogation;
• Process of legal procedures;
• Shortcomings during interrogation;
• Conclusion.

In the report, Public Defender underlines that preliminary statements of Government representatives in relation to priest Mamaladze was “violation of the presumption of innocence.”

The ombudsman’s report maintains the statements of public officials contributed to the creation of public prejudice against Mamaladze long before his conviction and the defense side was placed in unequal conditions due to being obliged not to disclose case details, which according to the Public Defender, did not serve the goals of procedural legislation and was “a superfluous and unnecessary restriction.”

The report also questions the fact that the court case, which caused high public interest, was closed. In addition, the defense side was not allowed by Tbilisi City Court and Court of Appeals to obtain camera recordings from the Airport where Mamaladze was detained in early February.